Can exercise help with menopause symptoms?
It is generally accepted that a regular program of physical activity can help manage many of the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause as well as the related health concern, such as heart disease and osteoporosis.
Exercise to the rescue.
You can diet all your life and be careful about what you eat, but if your hormones are out of sync your weight goes haywire. While following a low-fat diet rich in minerals, vitamins, fibre and high-quality protein is a must, food alone cannot help you combat the effects of menopause.
Certain alterations in our dietary habits, including cutting down on our intake of salt, can lead to positive changes. Increasing your water intake can reduce water retention. Also, avoiding high-fat food and increasing your fibre intake can keep your cholesterol levels in check.
However, combining a healthy food pattern with exercise can provide you several cumulative benefits:
Studies show that regular physical exercise decreased the frequency and severity of hot flushes in post-menopausal women who spent less than 3 to 5 hours per week on exercise.
Regular exercise can help you maintain your weight. Even though losing weight during menopause may be difficult, exercising can help prevent any further weight gain brought about by hormonal changes.
Exercise will help to keep your blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels in check. This has a cardio-protective effect.
Exercise releases the feel-good hormones known as endorphins, which help to lift your spirits and put you in a more positive frame of mind. Exercise also helps menopausal women to deal better with depression, stress and anxiety. What's more, exercising regularly helps you to also sleep well. Fatigue is a common complaint during menopause.
Exercise can be beneficial for your bone health too. With disuse and hormonal changes, bones decrease in size and strength over a period of time. Menopausal women are often prone to osteoporosis (increased brittleness of bones). However you can work on increasing the strength of bones by exercising. Research studies have shown that bone tissue lost from lack of use can be rebuilt with weight-bearing activity. In post-menopausal women, moderate exercise preserves bone mass in the spine. This helps to reduce the risk of fracture.
Doing light to moderate weights in the gym will not just give you a better shape, but also help in preserving and strengthening your bones in the long run.
Most importantly, exercise keeps you mentally agile. It increases the supply of oxygen to your brain cells and helps you process information and respond quickly. It also increases your chances for living a long, healthy life.
Other benefits of regular exercise include:
Better bowel activity
Improve metabolism. This controls your weight.
Reduced risk of heart disease.
Improved lung function
Lower blood sugar levels and decreased risk of adult onset diabetes
Reduced joint stiffness, arthritis and low-back pain
Increased HDL, or good cholesterol levels
Reduced body fat
Are there particular exercises that are beneficial during menopause?
A generally active lifestyle is the key. However, a woman's aging body will benefit from three major types of activity:
- aerobic conditioning for heart health and calorie-burning (walking, cycling, swimming, etc)
- strength training for muscles, bones and metabolism (dumbbells, weight machines, exercise tubing, etc)
- stretching for flexible muscles and fluid movement (stretching, yoga, Pilates)
Recreational activities such as tennis, zumba, golf can provide additional muscle and bone-building benefits and increase your fun factor.
Menopause and incontinence
Women may experience more urinary stress incontinence (poor bladder control) after menopause. This is because the pelvic floor muscles atrophy when estrogen levels drop. Pelvic floor muscles control urination, defecation and support the sexual organs. Many women benefit from the regular performance of pelvic floor or “Kegel” exercises.
Preparing for exercise
Older bodies require more diligence about warm-up. Allow 10 minutes of gradual warm-up at the beginning of your exercise sessions. This should include low-level cardiovascular exercise (walking on treadmill, cycling, etc. And range of motion exercises (gentle movement).
It is very important to build up your exercise programme gently. Don't start with heavy weights or long distance running. You will get injured and put you off exercise for life.
Exercise should be enjoyable as well as beneficial
Exercise should add enjoyment and energy to your life, so find ways of moving that give you pleasure along with better health. Find an activity you enjoy like tennis, golf, hiking, swimming, gardening, dancing or yoga. Find your own activity niche and invite your friends, or family members to join you. Exercise can be a great way to stay connected with those we love or build new relationships.
Taking control of your health is one way to make menopause a more pleasant experience. I encourage you to change PAUSE to ACTION!.
Jane Edlund is a Personal Trainer at David Lloyd Riverview and also teaches Sport Fitness, Stretch and Relax and Body Balance classes there. Jane is Canadian and has been living in Ireland for the past 8 years. She has a Masters Degree from the University of Montana in Fitness and Health Management and has been working in the fitness industry for the past 24 years. Jane is in her late 50s and having gone through menopause she feels she can verify the benefits of exercising through the process. She is an avid golfer and tennis player but also does strength training workouts throughout the week. She encourages all women to add a strength component to their fitness regime. If you have any questions about exercise and menopause you can contact her at David Lloyd Riverview.